Tag Archives: Women’s health

Embrace All Aspects of Health During Women’s Health Week

How many times do we try to eat right, exercise, eliminate stress factors and get a good night’s sleep  with no success?  Well that stops this week!  May 12-18 is National Women’s Health Week.  Use this week to start a routine to keep your mind, body and spirit healthy.

CDC Women Exercise Class Photo

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), taking these steps can lead to better health:

 

By the Numbers

According to the 2018 South Carolina Health Assessment, here are some health findings about women in South Carolina.  Read the full assessment for more statistics.

  • The prevalence of South Carolina women delaying medical care due to cost was higher than South Carolina males.
  • Non-Hispanic Black women experienced a higher rate of new cases of late-stage breast cancer than non-Hispanic White women. South Carolina ranks 19th in the nation for new cases of breast cancer.  White women are diagnosed at a higher rate than Black women; however, Black women die at a higher rate (almost 50% higher).  In 2015, there was a total of 4,077 new cases of breast cancer, of these, 1,306 were diagnosed as late-stage.
  • In 2016, 75% of South Carolina women aged 50 to 74 years old received a mammogram within the last two years.
  • South Carolina ranks 19th in the nation for new cases of cervical cancer. Black women are diagnosed at a higher rate than White women and also die at a higher rate.  There were 216 new cases of invasive cervical cancer in 2015.
  • In 2016, approximately 90% of women aged 21 to 65 years old reported having a Pap smear within the past three years.
  • Every year, more than 195,000 women in South Carolina are victimized by sexual violence, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner.

If you are not as healthy as you would like to be at your current age, it is never too late to start!  View the Healthy Living by Age page to gauge your health from ages 20s-90s.  Think you’ve got your health covered?  Find out your health score.

Go Red Day: For Women and Heart Health!

The word is finally getting out about the devastating statistics of heart disease in women. As the No. 1 killer of women nationally, heart disease claims the lives of nearly 500,000 women annually in the United States. In 2003, the American Heart Association introduced a new initiative known as “National Wear Red Day” to inform women of the dangers of ignoring their heart health and to teach them how to improve their heart and overall health. “Go Red Day” is held on the first Friday in February and encourages women and men to dress in red clothing to show their support for heart disease awareness.

In the 15 years since the inaugural “National Wear Red Day,” there have been significant accomplishments achieved to reduce the number of women dying from heart disease, including:

  • Nearly 90% of women have made at least one healthy behavior change.
  • More than one-third of women have lost weight.
  • More than 50% of women have increased their exercise.
  • 6 out of 10 women have changed their diets.
  • More than 40% of women have checked their cholesterol levels.
  • One-third of women has talked with their doctors about developing heart health plans.
  • Today, nearly 300 fewer women die from heart disease and stroke each day.
  • Death in women from heart disease has decreased by more than 30 percent over the past 10 years.

Click here to read more about “Go Red Day” and how you can protect yourself from heart disease.

Early Breast Cancer Detection Can Save Your Life

By Sonya Younger, DHEC Division of Cancer Prevention and Control Program

Ladies, let’s make a promise to ourselves – a promise to conduct self breast exams regularly and to get mammograms as recommended by the American Cancer Society. This simple promise can help detect breast cancer early and can make all the difference for a full recovery. #FindItFightIt

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women. In 2015, there will be an estimated 3,820 new cases of breast cancer in South Carolina, and an estimated 620 deaths from the disease. But if detected early through screening and early diagnosis, breast cancer can be treated successfully. Being informed about screening options and making healthy lifestyle choices can help you take care of your body.

Screening Options
Steady declines in breast cancer mortality among women since 1989 have been attributed to a combination of early detection and improvements in treatment. For most women, breast cancer screenings include self exams, annual clinical breast exams and mammography.

breast-cancer-iStock_000016019343_XXXLarge cropMammography can often detect breast cancer at an early stage before any symptoms are present, and this early detection is when treatment is more effective. For younger women or women with dense breasts, digital mammography or ultrasound imaging in combination with standard mammography may increase the likelihood of detecting cancer. For most women at high risk of breast cancer, annual screening using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in addition to mammography is recommended, typically starting at the age of 30. 

To know what screenings are right for you, please talk to your healthcare provider and visit the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) websites for leading guidelines. Get familiar with the known benefits, limitations, and potential harms linked to breast cancer screening and know how your breasts normally look and feel and report any changes to a health care provider right away.

Best Chance Network

Knowing that all women should have access to preventive care, DHEC’s Best Chance Network  (BCN) offers free breast and cervical cancer screenings to women who meet certain risk and income eligibility requirements. DHEC partners with the South-Atlantic Division of the American Cancer Society and more than 400 health care providers in every county of the state to coordinate cancer screenings for these underserved women.

Who May Qualify for Free Cancer Screenings? 

  • Women who live in South Carolina
  • Women 40 to 64 years old
  • Women who do not have health insurance or are underinsured (meaning your insurance only covers hospital care)
  • Women who meet income eligibility guidelines

Now in its 25th year, BCN has provided more than 155,000 eligible women with breast and cervical cancer screening and has helped diagnose more than 1,600 breast cancers and 2,500 pre-cervical and cervical cancers since 1991.The program is funded through a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Prevention

In addition to screenings, making healthy lifestyle choices can help prevent the risk of breast cancer. To reduce your risk, you can:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat a variety of vegetables, fruits and whole grains regularly.
  • Stay active or increase your daily physical activity.
  • Avoid or reduce alcohol consumption.
  • And, don’t smoke.

By providing access to early detection and treatment services, more women in South Carolina can win their battle against cancer. For more information, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345, and ask about the South Carolina BCN.

Mary’s Story – DHEC Employee, Breast Cancer Survivor

By Mary N. Bright, Public Information Director, DHEC’s Division of Emergency Response, Nuclear Response and Emergency Environmental Surveillance

In honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, DHEC’s Mary Bright is sharing her story about her fight against the disease.  

I’m sure some people would scoff when I say I’m one of the lucky ones but you’d probably have to know my story to understand why.

I have cancer; specifically, Stage II Invasive Ductal Metastatic Breast Cancer.

I know.  When I first heard that I had no idea what it meant either.

When I first found out, I couldn’t breathe.  When the doctor called me with the results of the biopsy, I was still telling myself the lump I had found was nothing.  Before that phone call, I had almost convinced myself that the second lump my Primary Care Physician found was a mistake too.  I told myself that we were both being overly cautious after a relative had been diagnosed with multiple cancers six months prior.

The next day, I checked myself for lumps in my breast.  I found nothing and told myself, “I’m only 40 years old.  I’m okay.”  I used to consider myself a careful person.  I usually checked myself every month but once in a while I would miss a month.  When I did, I would tell myself that I was fine because I was too young to worry.  This wasn’t something women my age needed to worry about yet.

I checked again in December and found nothing… then, life got in the way.  Three months went by while I helped my husband through major shoulder surgery.  I came home from work one day last March and settled onto the couch to relax after work.

We have three small dogs and usually the moment we sit down, they are in our laps.  Our smallest is a mini-dachshund named Shae.  That day Shae wouldn’t hop up.  She sat in the floor staring.  I called to her again and patted my lap.  Again, nothing… She just stared at me.  After a moment, Shae leapt off the floor and landed on the right side of my chest.  Immediately, pain shot up and down my body.  My first thought was that she had a broken nail and had gouged my skin when she jumped.  I scooped her up and handed her to my husband.  I began feeling around for what I expected to be a scratch and there it was… the lump… and it was big.

My heart stopped.

I thought, “There’s no way.”  It couldn’t be.  I was way too young for this, right?  It had to be something else.  How long had it been since I last checked?  Only three months.  It couldn’t be a tumor, right?  I turned to my husband and I said something to the effect of, “Sweetie, can you feel this?”  I remember his smile disappearing the moment he pressed down.  He said, “Honey, you need to go to the doctor… now.”

Two days later, I was in with Dr. Brian Cline, my primary care physician, explaining what happened.  He told me we would check everything out.  He said, hopefully, he’d be able to tell me that the lump was nothing.  The moment Dr. Cline pressed down, his whole demeanor changed.  He got very serious and said, “I can’t tell you this is nothing.”  He checked the right side and there it was; another lump, about the side of a marble, just below my armpit.

A quick and nearly painless mammogram and ultrasound pointed to the worst case scenario so the doctor ordered a biopsy while I was still on the table.  Dr. Tommy Cupples called with the results the next day; positive for carcinoma… every sample.

Less than a week later, my new oncologist, Dr. James Wells, gave me the verdict:

Stage II Invasive Ductal Metastatic Breast Cancer… two lumps, one in my right breast and one in a right lymph node.

But what did it mean?  Thankfully, Dr. Wells cut to the chase.  It was curable and he already had a plan: eight sessions of chemo, surgery and seven weeks of radiation.  It sounded like a lot.  It sounded like too much.  Dr. Wells said the lumps were big; the one in my breast measured three cm high and five cm long.  It was nearly the size of a grapefruit wedge.  The one in my lymph node was like a small marble.  He wanted to attack the cancer aggressively because of my age.  I was pretty young for that kind of diagnosis.  He also needed to make sure it wasn’t anywhere else.

Mary hoodieSuddenly, my life was in fast forward.

The next day, Friday, was a full body MRI; the day after was a PET scan.  Two days later was more than 10 hours in various doctor’s offices; a root canal I was avoiding, a surgical consult and another oncology visit.  I had to have the root canal to close off any open pathways for infection.  Chemo would require that I minimize any chance of allowing bacteria to make its way into my body.  Two days after all that, I had surgery to place a quarter-sized port in my chest so the chemotherapy drugs wouldn’t destroy my veins.  It was an unimaginably difficult week and we had barely begun.

Sixteen painful weeks followed; weeks where my white blood cell count dropped down to 100, causing me to be admitted to the oncology ward, weeks where the pain and exhaustion were too much for me to even get out of bed, weeks where the skin on my hands and feet came off in sheets.  But I made it through that and then through surgery and now radiation.

Through all of that, I am still one of the lucky ones.  I went through the worst period of my life; it was a painful and exhausting struggle to even feel human.  But if you remember what I said at the beginning, you’ll see the parts of my story that make me feel lucky:

ShaeThanks to little Shae, we found the lumps while I was still curable.

I met so many people along the way who were so much worse off; those in constant pain suffering from terminal cases, those in wheel chairs and using walkers and canes to get around.  A week before I began chemo, while still upset and stressed about what chemo would mean to me; I met a stranger who told that she’d “been going through chemo for two years and was still here.”  It was right then that I realized – with only eight sessions of chemo, I had nothing to complain about.

I had the best doctors and nurses I could have hoped for.

From my primary care physician, Dr. Brian Cline, to my oncologist, Dr. James Wells, to my radiological oncologist, Dr. Quillin Davis, and all the other doctors, nurses and techs in between, I was treated like family.  They got to know me on a personal level; I was not just my symptoms or my disease.  I was a person they cared for as if I were family.  They kept me smiling and hopeful at every step.

I was granted time off when I needed it.

My co-workers and friends who worked for state agencies and even perfect strangers allowed me to take time off to heal and get stronger.  Because DHEC and other state government agencies participate in the Leave Pool program, leave donated from other state employees allowed me to go through the treatments, to heal and to stay strong.

I was blessed enough to have insurance.

Cancer treatment isn’t cheap; multiple surgeries, chemo drugs, medication, radiation therapy and I’m still facing five years of a daily medication called Tamoxifen that will help prevent my cancer from returning.  But I have insurance and we’ve managed to pay off most of our bills.  I’ve met so many women who told me they put off getting mammograms because they can’t afford it.  They don’t have insurance or they don’t have enough to cover a mammogram.  I’ve told every one of them… Don’t wait!  There are resources like DHEC’s Best Chance Network that can provide services for men and women who qualify for free screenings.

I have felt so much love and support from so many.

My husband, my family, my friends… I know they would all be there for me through this terrible, terrible disease and treatment.  What I didn’t know is how many people, complete strangers, who stop me in the street and offer me their prayers and well wishes.

mary hug two

I am lucky.  I am.

I am lucky to still be here to tell each of you that you don’t have to go through what I did.  Be careful.  Check yourselves and check your loved ones.  Do it early and often.  It’s treatable and best to find it early.

If you are diagnosed, don’t lose hope.  Breast cancer isn’t an automatic death sentence.  We can beat it… and if you’re diagnosed, remember that you are not alone.

Mary and Darci

Mary Bright and WLTX 19 Anchor Darci Strickland who recently covered Mary’s story. Watch Mary’s story on WLTX here.